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Magic Tricks Are Therapeutic for Physically Disabled Children


Nearly every child loves magic tricks, but most children who are physically disabled do not especially enjoy doing their therapeutic exercises. But when you turn magic tricks into therapeutic tasks, you may have a winning and magical combination. At least that’s what happened at Tel Aviv University.

Dido Green, PhD, an occupational therapist and a PhD in psychomotor development of children, worked with professional magicians to develop simple yet effective therapeutic exercises for children and young adults who have motor disorders like hemiplegia, in which paralysis affects one side of the body.

Dr. Green conducted her initial research with nine children, who were taught how to use sponge balls, elastics, and paper clips to perform sleight-of-hand tricks based on those done by professional magicians. The children practiced the tricks for ten minutes a day over a four-to-six week period. The improvement in their motor skills was significant enough, noted Dr. Green, to warrant combining the magic concept with “more specific treatment regimes important for motor learning.”

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In the next stage of the study, Dr. Green plans to include a large group of children and provide intensive magic training. She also will be using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the children’s brains to see if there is a neurological impact associated with such training and to determine how long training needs to be performed to result in sustained changes.

Hemiplegia in infants and children is a type of cerebral palsy that is the result of damage to the parts of the brain that control muscle movements. According to the Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association, symptoms may include difficulty with fine motor skills, such as writing or using scissors, problems with walking and balance, stiffness and weakness in muscles on one side of the body, and seizures. Hemiplegia in children can be caused by stroke, transient ischemic attack, head trauma, brain tumor, congenital or perinatal injury, vasculitis, or an infection, among other causes.

Although hemiplegia cannot be cured, therapy can help. Children who have hemiplegia or other physically disabling conditions that affect their motor skills may get significant help if they practice therapeutic magic tricks. Dr. Green would like to expand her work into magic camps for disabled children and also continue investigating the benefits of magic for such children.

Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association
Tel Aviv University, Mar. 15, 2010